Conference fitness tracking plan to be evaluated by Board of Pension at May 2 meeting

When the Arkansas Annual Conference voted in 2015 to terminate the Conference health care coverage, one of the benefits that remained was Virgin Pulse.

Known as Virgin Healthmiles when the Conference began enrolling participants in 2010, the program relies on a pedometer or other fitness tracking device to raise awareness and provide incentives for participants to develop or strengthen healthy habits. Participants accrue points which translate into reward dollars and can be redeemed for gift cards, direct-deposited into a bank account or donated to a charitable cause.

The Conference contracts with Virgin Pulse through an arrangement with Wespath Benefits and Investments, the United Methodist Church’s pension and benefits organization (formerly known as the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits). When the Arkansas Conference voted to end its health care plan, the Conference’s Board of Pension and Health Benefits decided to continue participating in Virgin Pulse through Wespath on a year-by-year basis.

“In order for the board to make a recommendation at Annual Conference to continue or terminate the plan for another year, we will be reviewing plan participation at our next meeting scheduled for May 2,” said Stark Ligon, chair of the Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

The board will take into account the trends of participation in Virgin Pulse among eligible Arkansas Conference clergy, lay employees and spouses.

“Only about one-third of our eligible members are enrolled, and the same handful of people remain active each quarter,” said Mona Williams, benefits officer for the Conference. “Having spent my career in benefits, it’s good to see a program that gives people the opportunity to improve their overall fitness and be rewarded for it.”

Although numbers were not available at press time, Williams said the program likely experienced an increase in participants after the 2016 Annual Conference, when it was announced that Virgin Pulse would be evaluated each year. “I’m curious to see how many came on after Conference 2016, and if they have been active,” she said.

About the program

When it was branded as Virgin Healthmiles, the program focused mainly on walking or running, but now as Virgin Pulse, it encourages participants to track a number of healthy behaviors through the mobile app or related website. Virgin Pulse is part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group business conglomerate, and through Wespath, the Arkansas Conference covers the employee costs and rewards for its members.

Virgin Healthmiles primarily focused getting participants walking, and awarded points for mileage goals reached. Today, Virgin Pulse supports a more encompassing vision of healthy behavior, rewarding participants for keeping a journal of other activities, such as swimming, which may not be counted by a pedometer or other tracker; to set nutrition goals; to track other wellbeing goals; and to challenge friends. The Virgin Pulse program helps participants address all areas of well-being, including financial, social, emotional, spiritual and physical.

The first pedometer is free to newly enrolled participants. If a participant already has a preferred fitness tracking device, the program will sync with many available brands and models, including Fitbit and Apple Watch.

Rewards

Wespath Benefits and Investments (formerly named the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church) spent several years correlating the quantities of steps uploaded into Virgin Pulse with annual medical costs for the participants in the HealthFlex health plan for many years. They found that participants who upload higher levels of steps generally spend less in medical care.

In addition to the rewards of healthier living, participants can earn up to $275 per calendar quarter, with increasing dollar amounts given as each of four levels of point accrual is completed.

Points toward reward levels can be earned through activity, and also by reporting healthy habits on the mobile app or website.

Who is eligible?

All active clergy and spouses, as well as Conference-employed laity and spouses, may enroll in Virgin Pulse if they are not already participating. Those who may have lost momentum (and possibly their pedometer) can rejoin the plan at any time between now and Annual Conference.

Enrolling

Eligible individuals may begin tracking activity and habits and earning rewards through Virgin Pulse immediately. To enroll, visit http://join.virginpulse.com/wespath and select Arkansas as plan sponsor when prompted. If you have questions or need assistance, contact Mona Williams at 501-324-8028 or mwilliams@arumc.org.